BWW Review: Arizona Broadway Theatre Presents TITANIC ~ Epic!
In TITANIC THE MUSICAL, the decks are stacked on a number of levels.
Stacked against the odds of a fatal iceberg dooming what was hailed as invincible and unsinkable. (The massive ship, boldly designated by its owner, J. Bruce Ismay, and designer, Thomas Andrews, as the ship of dreams, sank to the depths of the North Atlantic in April 1912.)
Stacked by class and privilege, a sailing symbol of social stratification, where humility and aspiration dwell in steerage while the rich and famous strut their affectations above. Yet, when push comes to sink, rich and poor alike become equals under the waves and the heavens.
Stacked by the failure of a veteran of the seas, Captain Edward Smith, to defy, against his better judgment, the entreaties of a higher but less informed authority to accelerate. Here,Ismay epitomizes the arrogance and misdirected sense that progress is defined by winning, speed, and cutting corners at the expense of safety ~ all to cross the ocean in record-breaking time. (Not enough lifeboats were available to secure all passengers!)
All of these layers ~ the dimension and scope of the tragedy that befell the ship and the vignettes that reveal the diversity of the humanity aboard it ~ are embraced by Danny Gorman, the director of Arizona Broadway Theatre's production of TITANIC, and translated into a monumentally uplifting experience.
Sure, the ship of dreams becomes a vessel of nightmare, but TITANIC is not about being weighed down by gravity or moroseness. (It is not, thankfully, a stage version of the DiCaprio/Winslet film fantasy.) It is rather a fact-based (details about the ship's size and load and cargo occupy Maury Yeston's music and lyrics) and very human account of the lives, the hopes (I Must Get On That Ship) and decisions that constituted the catastrophe.
Kiel Klaphake (Andrews), Matthew Mello (Ismay), and Olin Davidson (Smith) are superb as the triangle of decision-makers whose judgments determine the ship's fate. There's not an actor in this show who does not excel in his/her performance, but shout-outs are a must to Jay Roberts and Jill Tieskotter for a glorious turn in Doing the Latest Rag and I Have Danced and to John Knispel (as Frederick Barrett, the ship's stoker) for his powerhouse vocals (The Proposal).
To reflect the immensity of the RMS Titanic, scenic designer Nate Bertone has gone brilliantly simple. A massive flow of cold steel and rivets girds the stage. Negative space is a positive force within which scene changes are fluid and seamless.
The music is as grand as the show's title. Under the direction of Brian DeMaris, the band roars with richness and depth, capturing the ebb and flow of the ship's journey and, in the final poignant moments of the show, becoming an exaltation of those lost at sea and the survivors who shared their memories.
In all its technical aspects ~ Kurtis Overby's choreography, Savana Laveille's costumes, Amanda Gran's wigs and makeup, Kirk Bookman's lighting ~ this production of TITANIC is equal to anything you'd see on the Great White Way, exemplary in its stagecraft.
Opening night (October 12th) was epic! Now, Arizona Broadway Theatre's production of TITANIC, the 1997 winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, runs through November 10th.
Photo credit to Scott Samplin